The themes of "The View from the Afternoon" are based around observations of behaviour on an excursion into local nightlife. The song opens with the lines "Anticipation has a habit to set you up/For disappointment in evening entertainment but". Vocalist Alex Turner comments on the expectation that an evening that will be enjoyable will likely lead to disappointment; the line could also serve a comment on the massive hype surrounding the album in the UK press before release and several critics and fans have suggested this was intentional by Turner. The song describes various scenes; a group of meretricious females who have rented a limousine for a fancy dress party; a gambler who has won and then lost the jackpot on a fruit machine; and "two-for-one" drinks promotions. The chorus describes a drunk club-goer sending romantic text messages ("verse and chapter sat in her inbox") on a Nokia mobile phone which is only interpreted by the receiver as evidence he has drunk a lot; Turner noting "you can pour your heart out but her reasoning will block all what you send her after nine o'clock". The lyrics, along with many on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, criticise the culture of the nightlife described in the song, in a sarcastic and deriding tone.
Alex Turner said "This is one of the last songs written for the album. There's nothing clever, it's just about anticipating the evening, finding comfort in familiarity and the fact that you know you're bound to send a daft message or something before the sun comes up. I think I've stopped doing that now." The lyric "you can never beat the bandit, no" refers to the same fruit machine that the Reverend and the Makers sing about on the song Bandits. Both of them describe losing out to the fruit machine.
The video is based around a young male in a parka jacket playing the drum part of the song in the middle of a courtyard between blocks of high rise flats. Then, there is a sequence of surreal elements; a schoolgirl walks past wearing plastic devil horns; a running fox; three men trying to attract the attention of the drummer who ignores them; the drummer is fed milk by the schoolgirl and then a brief shot in color of him washing himself in shallow water. The music stops and it is revealed that his drumming has caused his hands to bleed. Then, a shot of a man in the dark wielding a baseball bat; a brief shot of the moon which then appears to explode; and the man struggling to lift the baseball bat. Finally the man with the bat comes near to the drummer and is about to strike him but the audio stops and we see a last shot of the male being showered in what could be rain or the fragments of the moon. The video is based on the story of Buddha. He was said to have meditated under a tree for days. While he meditated, devils came to seduce and sabotage him but he resisted. Seeing Buddha starve himself in order to attain nirvana, a lady gave him milk to quench the thirst. The video is shot in black and white and was filmed near Park Hill flats in the Arctic Monkeys' native city of Sheffield, directed by W.I.Z. for Factory Films. It was also filmed later in the courtyard in front of Bromyard House on Ledbury Estate in Peckham in South East London